SC reserves verdict on Haryana panchayat raj law

New Delhi, Oct 28 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Wednesday was told that the people’s right to contest election to panchayats in rural areas cannot be disabled by introducing educational and other eligibility criteria for the aspiring candidates.

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) said this to the apex court bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Abhay Monohar Sapre.

The court reserved its order on the petitions challenging the validity of the amendments to the Haryana panchayat raj law, introducing educational qualification and other eligibility criteria for those contesting the rural local body elections.

Appearing for the PUCL, which has challenged the incorporation of similar provisions in the Rajasthan panchayat raj law, senior counsel Indira Jaising said a person without education cannot be barred from contesting election as education was not a must to be a good elected representative.

Describing the eligibility criteria for the candidates as violative of article 14 (right to equality) of the constitution, Jaising said the constitution permitted the State to add to the disqualifications for being a candidate. But what had been done by the amended law was to introduce qualifications for being a candidate.

“State has no power to frame any qualification” for being a candidate, Jaising told the court. It was argued that the amendment ousted 84 percent of Dalit women and 71 percent of all rural women from the contest.

Reiterating the Haryana government’s stand, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the court that those opposed to the amended law were only interested in contesting elections to become “chaudharies” but how would they perform their duties without being educated.

Rohatgi said if they wanted to remain in “dark ages” and not to study, then the 11th schedule of the constitution dealing with the rural economy, agriculture, land reforms, rural housing and cottage industry should be withdrawn.

He defended the provision of educational qualification.

He repeatedly told the court that unlike the lawmakers in parliament and state assemblies, those elected to panchayats including sarpanchs shoulder dual responsibilities of being elected representatives and of discharging responsibilities akin to executive functions.

The apex court on September 17 had stayed the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act 2015 providing that a candidate from the general category aspiring to contest local bodies elections should have cleared the Class 10 examination.

For Dalit and tribal communities, the educational qualification was pegged at Class 8.

Besides this, a candidate should not have an outstanding debt of a cooperative bank, be in arrears of electricity bills, face criminal case and must have a toilet at home.

The amended Haryana Panchayati Raj Act that was passed by the Haryana assembly on September 7 and the election process commenced on September 8.

While reserving the order, the court gave all the parties a week’s time to file their written submissions.

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